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Category Archives: April 1948

Test Tube Babies (April 9, 1948)

Test Tube Babies
Test Tube Babies (1948)
Directed by W. Merle Connell
Screen Classics

W. Merle Connell’s Test Tube Babies premiered in San Francisco on April 9, 1948. Then it went on a road show tour of the U.S., and if it happened to be banned in your state you could just drive over to the next state to watch it (see the newspaper ad below). Like most exploitation films, Test Tube Babies was reissued under a variety of titles over the years, including Sins of Love, Blessed Are They, and a longer, recut version called The Pill in 1967.

Also firmly in the exploitation tradition, Test Tube Babies is a train wreck of two very different films. One is a woodenly acted informational film about artificial insemination and the other is a woodenly acted drama about a less-than-perfectly-happy young married couple whose friends are all drunks and swingers.

That young couple are George and Cathy Bennett (William Thomason and Dorothy Duke), and the lack of children in their marriage after the eternity of 12 months is causing them great unhappiness. George isn’t happy that Cathy spends time with the sleazy gigolo Frank Grover (John Michael), and she isn’t happy with all of the wild parties they keep having. But without children, what’s there to do but host swinging make-out parties?

These wild parties consist of a hot record on the phonograph, plenty of drinks, women undressing after gin spills all over them, and men yelling things like “Show ’em how they dance in the burlesque houses!”

There’s a good amount of stripping and undressing in Test Tube Babies, but most of it is fairly discreet. The only actual nudity I spotted occurred during a cat fight that begins with the line “Why you cheap tramp!” and ends with the bleached blonde Mary Lou Reckow rolling around on the floor with another actress and losing her top.

After that fight, George and Cathy vow to never throw another party like THAT again. Cathy tells George they need a family. He agrees. This conversation occurs after the movie is already more than half over, and it’s the first time in Test Tube Babies that they talk about going to see an obstetrician or gynecologist (which they can’t pronounce).

The obstetrician, Dr. Wright, is played by legendary non-actor Timothy Farrell, who worked as a bailiff in the L.A. Sheriff’s Department while acting part time. Farrell is probably best remembered today as the narrator of Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda (1953), in which he also appeared as the doctor. Unlike Thomason and Duke, Farrell is able to correctly pronounce “gynecologist,” but I did find it weird the way he kept saying “sperms.”

Test Tube Babies was produced and presented by George Weiss, who would go on to have a long career presenting Z-grade exploitation and sexploitation films dressed up as informational documentaries to circumvent Hollywood production codes. His films include timeless classics like W. Merle Connell’s The Devil’s Sleep (1949), Lillian Hunt’s Too Hot to Handle (1950), Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda (1953), Robert C. Dertano’s Girl Gang (1954), Maurice H. Zouary’s Nudist Life (1961), Joseph P. Mawra’s Olga’s House of Shame and White Slaves of Chinatown (both 1964), and many, many more.

The Big Clock (April 9, 1948)

Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945) wasn’t the only film in which Ray Milland got into trouble because of booze.

In John Farrow’s The Big Clock, based on the best-selling novel by Kenneth Fearing, George Stroud (Milland) misses the 7:25 train home because he’s knocking back stingers with Pauline York (Rita Johnson), a former model for Styleways magazine, one of the many imprints of Janoth Enterprises. In the film, Janoth is a Manhattan publishing juggernaut that also owns magazines with names like Artways, Airways, Sportways, Futureways, and Crimeways.

Stroud is the executive editor of Crimeways, and not long after the film begins he offers Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton) his resignation. He’s been promising his wife Georgette (Maureen O’Sullivan) a honeymoon since they were married, and now that they’ve been married long enough to have a five-year-old son, her patience has reached its breaking point.

Of course, Stroud strains her patience even further by missing that 7:25 train home, and Georgette leaves for their belated honeymoon alone while he goes out to nightclubs and passes out dead drunk in Pauline’s apartment, fully clothed on the couch. Oh, and did I mention that Pauline is the girlfriend of Stroud’s temperamental boss, Earl Janoth?

In Fearing’s 1946 novel, it’s made explicit that George Stroud has sex with Pauline (whose last name in the book is Delos, not York). He’s a regular cad and even has an overnight bag ready for any illicit sleepovers that might come his way.

With The Big Clock, Farrow crafted a remarkably faithful version of Fearing’s best seller. Stroud’s extramarital affair couldn’t be shown in a Hollywood film, obviously, and all mentions of homosexuality had to be expunged from the script, but in adapting the book Farrow and screenwriter Jonathan Latimer seemed to adopt an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach.

There are some minor changes that neither add nor detract from the story, like how the Strouds of the film have a five-year-old son while the Strouds of the novel have a five-year-old daughter, but there’s one big change that works extremely well. In the novel, “the big clock” was merely George Stroud’s personal metaphor for the rat race — the vast machinery of life and society that never stops ticking forward — but the big clock has been made literal for the film. It’s an enormous contraption that dominates the lobby of the building that houses Janoth Enterprises, and — no surprises here — the climax of the film involves a good amount of crawling around in its works.

The central conceit of The Big Clock is too good to screw up. Stroud leaves Pauline’s apartment moments before Janoth steps out of the elevator and sees a shadowy figure leaving down the stairs. Janoth and Pauline have words, he flies into a rage, and murders her. Janoth’s co-publisher Steve Hagen (George Macready) convinces Janoth that they need to find the mysterious witness and eliminate him.

Since Crimeways has an investigative team, Janoth and Hagen put Stroud in charge of the search for the mysterious witness. Stroud knows Janoth killed Pauline, but he can’t speak up or his marriage will be ruined. He also can’t mess up the search for himself too badly without raising any red flags. All he can do is try to stay one step ahead of things.

The Big Clock is full of nail-biting suspense — especially the last reel — and features fine performances all around. I can’t picture anyone but Charles Laughton as Janoth, a grotesque, vain, sensitive, mercurial publishing genius with one of the silliest little mustaches you will ever see on film, and Milland is perfect as a very intelligent man who knows just exactly how badly he’s trapped but who never stops trying to figure out his escape route. I also especially liked Harry Morgan as Janoth’s personal masseur and probable hit man Bill Womack, a creepy guy who wears dark clothes, has a perpetual scowl, and never speaks.

And in case you were wondering, the director, John Farrow, is indeed Mia Farrow’s father. He and Maureen O’Sullivan were married on September 12, 1936, and had seven children together; Michael, Patrick, John Charles, Mia, Tisa, Prudence, and Stephanie.